When the post-election discussion in 2008 began to unfold, much of the voting analyses met expectations. But one group had received only modest attention going into the election. While it was generally conceded that young adults were largely in favor of President Obama, there was uncertainty if this group would actually turn out on election day.
Keep in mind that in 2008 the oldest Millennial was twenty-eight years old; and the youngest was only eight years old. Only about one-half of this generation was actually eligible to vote. But the response of this generation that did vote was astounding.
The Millennials voted for Barack Obama by an overwhelming 66 to 32 percent margin. Most exit polls showed that this generation strongly favored gay marriage. Similar polls revealed that the young adults opposed the war in Iraq; some of the polls indicated that this number was as high as eight out of ten.
This young generation was also clear on their expectations of the federal government. They wanted more centralized power in the government, and they thought Obama would more likely deliver on that expectation. Different exit polls generally demonstrated that eight out of ten wanted a stronger governmental role in our lives.
For example, on the issue of universal health care, Millennials by a 71 percent to 29 percent margin thought the federal government should guarantee health-care coverage for all Americans.
At least in 2008 the Millennials proved to be a generation motivated by a strong centralized federal government. Most every study of the Millennials indicates that the same desire is still alive and well today, including the one for The Millennials, a book I coauthored with my son, Jess.
What has prompted this generation to see government as the solution to many of the social problems, as well as the answer to some of their own personal needs? Over the past four years the United States experienced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Unemployment is still high, and most other economic indicators are dismal as well.
It is not unusual to see people look to the government for solutions when few alternatives seem available. What will be interesting to monitor is the attitude of the Millennials toward government as the economy continues to improve and as they become older. Will they shift from their current strong government leanings? Or have they been so marked by the severity of the recession and the failure of other institutions that this generation will remain a big-government generation?
The latter question brings up another possible explanation. The desire for big government could be a matter of default. No other organizations have stepped up significantly, so the government is the only logical place for solutions.
More than six out of ten Millennials feel that the government should be responsible for providing their retirement. Even though the number represents a significant majority, their sense of entitlement is not strong. Only 20 percent have a strong opinion that this is a proper role of government.
The results are similar on government-provided health care. Two-thirds of the Millennials see it as the government's responsibility to provide everyone adequate healthcare coverage. But on this issue only 26 percent feel strongly about it. Many of the Millennials seem to be seeking an expanded role of government, but they are doing so reluctantly. They have turned to a more centralized government because they know of no other alternatives.
I am not a spokesman for my generation; so many Baby Boomers may disagree with me. But my perspective is that we are leaving our children a world that is in a much sadder state than when the baton was passed to us. So consider the following an open letter to Millennials:
To the Millennials,
We have borrowed from your future and left you an incomprehensible national debt. We have polluted the world and left you dirtier air and water. Our politicians have failed you. Our religious leaders have failed you. Our business leaders have failed you. It is no wonder that you care little for the institutions of our nation. It is no wonder that you have always had a cynical view of those institutions.
We have created such a system of entitlements that everyone seems to be asking for their next handout. But we have not adequately funded those entitlements so we borrowed a bit more from your future.
We have left you wars. And it seems like we are engaged in the new habit of fighting multiple wars at the same time. We have left you in the fear of terrorism. I know you can't blame the Baby Boomers for terrorists, but those terrorists have taken advantage of the weaker nation we left you.
It seems as though the one significant gift we left you was our belief in you. I know sometimes you were our trophy children, and we pushed you to accomplish things for our own egos. But most of the time we truly did want the best for you. We really do love you. And we really do believe that you can make a difference.
It won't be easy to reverse the problems we have created, but you can do it. You have the desire. You have the abilities. You have the education, both formal and informal. Yes, you can do it.
Then perhaps, in thirty or forty years, when you pass the baton of leadership to your children in the next generation, you will give them a better place than we left you. If nothing else, we leave you with our confidence that you, the Millennials, can become the next great generation.
Thom S. Rainer